Video Games Are Now Fighting To Save The Planet

As wildfires ravaged Australia in December 2019, players of Space Ape video games contacted the company to offer their help. The London-based firm added an in-game purchase into several of its mobile titles, with proceeds benefiting either a wildlife or humanitarian organization working Down Under. In four days, the company managed to raise $120,000.

According to The World Counts, the world could run out of rain forests in 2100, food in 2050, fish in 2048, and water in 2040. Global emissions of carbon dioxide continue to grow, global temperatures continue to increase, the ice in Antarctica and Greenland is melting at record speed, and sea levels are rising as a result of global warming.

Deborah Mensah-Bonsu, former Head of Content at Space Ape Games, who now runs a consultancy that focuses on gaming to do good, says most people want to make a difference. Now, the video game industry is going one step further to help the planet, integrating environmentally-themed missions and messages into games like Angry Birds 2, Golf Clash and Subway Surfers.

The goal is to educate players about climate change or endangered species and ultimately encourage them to do their part. The initiative, launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), hopes to encourage game developers to raise awareness about important environmental issues.

“Video gaming is one of the biggest communication mediums on the planet,” says Sam Barratt, Chief of Education and Advocacy with UNEP. “We aim to support the industry to encourage gamers to be educated, inspired and activated around the wider environmental agenda, and so far it seems to be working.”

We got together with some industry friends @rovio @sybo_games @fingersoft_official @choicesgame @playdemic @playwildworks @creativemobile @lifeatgameduell @mag_interactive @futuregamesoflondonand @unep and held a Green Mobile Game Jam. The goal: educate and empower our 250 Million players about climate change. Check out some of our work here:

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How Gamers Can Help

Around the world, 2.6 billion people play video games with many expressing concern for the environment and conservation. A 2019 UNEP report, Playing for the Planet, revealed that video games have the capacity to engage billions of players to do their part to resolve social and environmental issues.

With yearly revenues of $140 billion, the video game industry earns more than Hollywood, Bollywood and music sales combined. In 2017, 666 million people watched people play games on YouTube and Twitch, more than the combined viewership of HBO, ESPN and Netflix. According to the UNEP report, engaging even a small number of people watching games, combined with contributions from the gaming industry, could have a significant impact on improving the environment.

Actions Gaming Companies Are Taking

Space Ape, one of 25 members of UNEP’s Playing for the Planet Alliance, has already reached more than 970 million gamers. By joining the alliance, game companies commit to reduce their emissions, among other initiatives. The alliance, which hosted a Green Game Jam earlier this year, had 11 mobile game companies competing to integrate sustainability into their existing games. The goals included asking players to make small sacrifices, like participating in Meatless Mondays or biking to work, as well as, building green environments, solar panels or electric cars in their games.

Transformers: Earth Wars, developed by Space Ape, featured both good and evil Transformers in its updated release working together to find new technology to enhance sustainable energy resources. The company also asked players to pledge to switch their incandescent light bulbs to LEDs.

Meanwhile, Pixelberry Studios focused on climate change in Choices, a game that follows a young woman back to her hometown where the fish have been dying off as a result of climate change. The player must help their young sister raise awareness about climate change among the townspeople. Saran Walker, one of the writers at Pixelberry, said the team was inspired by articles that showed that younger generations felt anxiety about climate change and wanted to make a difference.

“We were all really inspired by Greta Thunberg’s story,” Walker said. “Anyone at the company who has kids is thinking about what kind of world are they going to leave to their children. We wanted to show people that they can actually do a lot as an individual.”

Kick off 2020 with something GOOD 😃 An evening to learn and be inspired. Bringing together people in our industry who are using games for public good. Tics & Info: Proceeds go to NGO @weforest_org

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Dealing With Our Carbon Footprint

The gaming industry, which has a significant environmental footprint, is also weighing how to become carbon neutral, or even carbon positive. Currently, 50 million tons of electronic waste is produced each year, with that number expected to reach 120 million tons by 2050. Supercell, which makes mobile games, recently decided to go entirely carbon neutral and offset the carbon dioxide used by players while gaming. Rovio and Space Ape also plan similar initiatives.

The Playing for the Planet Alliance is educating its members on decarbonization, with Sony heading a group that includes other console makers. The alliance will design a new carbon calculator for the industry, offer advice on offsetting and ask for commitments to restore forest landscapes, which aid in the absorption of carbon emissions.

“When we set out on this journey we wanted to help others in the industry too,” said Mensah-Bonsu. “If we all do our part, we can make a change in the world.”

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